Gay Love In Mark's Gospel? : Studies in Mark, Pt. 41

To the general populace or perhaps the common layperson, "Secret Mark" may not ring a bell. To serious Markan scholars, however, we know this title all too well. I do not have time to give an in-depth assessment of "Secret Mark" here, although I may sometime in the future. That said, here's a short, one paragraph, introduction to the subject (taken from the back cover of Morton Smith's work):

"In 1958, Morton Smith traveled to Jerusalem to do research in the monastery library of Mar Saba, in the Judean desert. What he found was no routine corroboration of New Testament history, but a precious fragment of a second-century document that would change our understanding of the work and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth."

Smith's theory suggests that after the completion of his first Gospel, Mark went to Alexandria and composed another, adding stories to it. It was in this place that Clement of Alexandria in his day became familiar with this "secret" work. In fact, Smith contended that Clement, in a work unknown before his finding of "Secret Mark", actually mentioned the book. Smith also argues that the author of the Gospel of John based his work on "Secret Mark" (see ch. 7). Really, this is one of his main and most radical contentions.

One of the things Smith says in his book concerns the raising of Lazarus and it's relationship to the secret gospel's account of a similar story (pp. 47-8; see also Mk. 14, the story where the young man's linen cloth comes off, a link Smith himself makes as he believes this is the same young man shedding his clothes for Jesus). Here's what the secret gospel says:

"And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, He stretched His hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon Him, loved Him and began to beseech Him that he might be with Him. And going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. [The nocturnal initiation] And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan."

Notice a few things here: 1) Jesus goes into the tomb to get Lazarus, reportedly the same young boy whose linen cloth came off in Mk. 14., 2) The young boy beseeches Jesus that he might be with Him--that is, sexually, 3) So, they went to the boy's house, 4) Jesus had sexual relations with the boy a.k.a. nocturnal initiation, and 5) the next morning Jesus left and returned to the Jordan.

Wow! So, secret Mk. tells us of Jesus raising a young boy from the grave so that He can go have a one night stand with him. Well, other than persons like Elaine Pagels who have highly commended Smith's findings, a fellow by the name of Will Roscoe has seized upon this too. Roscoe has written a book titled: Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same-Sex Love. (Some people just love conspiracy theories and will do anything for a buck!) Here's some of what Roscoe has said:

"Jesus was not a 'homosexual baptizer'...his own sexuality remains a mystery--but he was someone for whom love between men could embody some of the highest ideals of humanity. Like Plato before him, 'Jesus considered the love of comrades qualitatively different from that of other relationships...For Jesus, the love of friends is the 'greater love' because it is voluntary. Nothing demands or requires that friends love each other; they can love without conditions...As shocking as it may seen to today's conservative Christians, Christian ideals of love are rooted in a philosophical tradition inspired by homosexual desire. According to the Gospel of Mark (14:51-52), when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem 'a certain young man was following him, having thrown a linen cloth around his naked body. And the young men caught him. But he, leaving behind the linen cloth, fled from them naked. Though the canonical Gospel of Mark says nothing more about this wayward youth, in a 'Secret Gospel of Mark' which, though no longer available was quoted extensively by Bishop Clement of Alexandria (150-215 ce). Though the Bishop's letter 'conveniently' vanished after it was re-discovered in the monastery of Mar Saba, scholar Morton Smith (who found the letter) quoted it for posterity. It speaks of a young man, whom Jesus raised from the dead, who 'loved him [Jesus] and began to implore that he might be with him...When evening arrived, the young man came to him, having wrapped a linen cloth around his naked body, and he remained with him that night. Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God.' That this can have sexual connotations there is no doubt, for Bishop Clement goes out of this way to point out that this 'mystery' did not involve 'naked man with naked man.'"

For me, it is not important to attempt to discredit that Smith's discovery was an actual discovery. Nor is it important for me to attempt to prove that the earlier accounts of Mark's work are more valid (again, earlier does not always = better). What is important to me is that in the tradition of the Church, canonical Mk. is what we have. Just as well, in the tradition of the Church Jesus and His followers are never portrayed as partaking in homosexual acts but rather, speaking out against them. In fact, Mk. 10 may well be an instance of this. For me, Smith's find is an interesting but not convincing one. We have what the Church canonized and that's what I'm sticking to. It is not a matter of covering my eyes or closing my ears, instead, it is a matter of trusting my forebearers and acknowledging the fact that what Smith found, doesn't line up with the canonical Gospel's presentation of Jesus in His life and cultural milieu.


  1. Thanks for this post, Michael. I think your perspective on the ultimate irrelevance of Secret Mark is right on. A while back, I had an opportunity to read Smith's publication on his finding as well as a recent (2005) critique of Smith's discovery. A guy named Stephen Carlson (who is a lawyer, not an NT scholar) wrote "The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark." In this book, Carlson sets forth the theory that Smith fabricated Secret Mark as an elaborate hoax in retaliation for being spurned by the academy. He wrangles a good deal of evidence in favor of this theory, which creates an interesting phenomenon: a conspiracy theory concerning a conspiracy theory. The whole thing is entertaining to me if nothing else. I am hopeful that most folks in the church are able to see through such things.

  2. Jake,

    Glad I could offer an informative post. I'm aware of Carlson's work. I debated on buying it instead of the Smith work but I wanted to read Smith firsthand. It absolutely seems like it's all just a conspiracy theory, especially with the fact that he not only created a secret Mark but a secret document by Clement that was eventually lost (yeah right). I mean, who finds two documents that support one another that get lost and nobody else in the world gets to see firsthand.

    Anyways, glad I could be informative!

  3. Carlson is an NT scholar (he's currently doing doctoral work in New Testament at Duke). He did not hold a degree at the time he wrote the book, but he will soon enough.

  4. Reading the novel "Mystery of Mar Saba" gave me a good chuckle...mostly because it predates smith's find and parallels his story rather closely. thanks for the post!


  5. greatswalmi,

    thanks a lot for your comment and especially the link, this is good stuff. did you write the article found at the link addy?

  6. The relationship of "Gay Love" to the Secret Gospel is discussed at length in my book, The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death and Madness in a Biblical Forgery (Yale, 2006). For the reaction and debate it has provoked, see http://music.princeton.edu/~jeffery/raves.htm

    Peter Jeffery